Texas Makes Steps Toward Seagrass Protection

Recommendations include creating detailed maps depicting seagrass locations, developing tide indicators, and promoting a seagrass awareness campaign

An advisory group of fishing, boating and conservation interests has made nine recommendations to protect seagrass and five to reduce user conflicts along the Texas coast, reports Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners.

The 19-member Coastal User Working Group was created by TPW Commission Chairman Dan Friedkin of Houston and led by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Coastal Fisheries Director Robin Riechers, with representatives from the fishing, guiding, paddling, airboating, and birding communities, TPWD Law Enforcement, and various conservation organizations.

As seagrass plays a critical ecological role on the Texas, supporting higher biodiversity and production that any other biotic community, the working group's highest priority recommendation, with near unanimous agreement, was for the State of Texas to develop a coastwide seagrass protection regulation. While TPWD does not currently have authority to create such a regulation, the working group said the department should collaborate and communicate with outside organizations and the Texas Legislature to create one. The group had other seagrass protection recommendations, including creating detailed maps depicting seagrass locations, developing tide indicators, and promoting a seagrass awareness campaign.

User conflicts are also likely to escalate as more people come to the Texas Coast. Texas now has about 800,000 saltwater anglers, approximately 600,000 registered boats, and more than 74,000 duck hunters. These three user groups, and others, enjoy the coast in an increasing variety of ways. Wildlife watching in Texas has increased from just over 4 million people in 2006 to more than 6 million in 2011. Other activities such as kayaking, windsurfing, and shell collecting are also increasingly popular. As these numbers grow, the amount of recreation space available in Texas’s bays and estuaries remains finite, increasing the likelihood of user conflicts.

In an effort to reduce current and potential future user conflict between increasing and diversifying recreational activities, the working group developed five recommendations. These include the development of a code of ethics, lowering the minimum age required for boater education, and working with other agencies to allow for more effective rookery signage to be placed near bird nesting islands.

“Everyone who loves the Texas coast can appreciate the work of the Coastal User Working Group, and we at Texas Parks and Wildlife will be taking a hard look at their recommendations,” Riechers said. “Some of these, such as public education and signage, are an expansion of things we’re already doing. Many will require outside help. But their report gives us a thoughtful base of support to move forward.”